Google’s battle against the forces of Evil

March 19, 2006

Topics: Google, Privacy.

The
resolution of Google’s well-publicized dispute
with the United States Department of Justice is now well-known – and Google won. At least, mostly won.

Google’s official blog post on the matter states very clearly that they were successful – "Judge tells DoJ "No" on search queries". Google has been spared the need to provide millions of search queries to the government. However, they have not been spared entirely. They will still be required to supply 50,000 URLs from their index to the government.

Compared to the original data request – billions of URLs and two month’s worth of user’s search queries – this measly 50,000 URLs is nothing. A tiny fraction of a day’s queries for the search giant. Google has every reason to crow!

Google has the good fortune to have been the only one of the three major search competitors to have fought the Department of Justice on this issue. This gives it a badly-needed boost to it’s image as a member in good standing of the industry’s Junior Justice League. With the damages Google has suffered from the recent Chinese censorship fallout, the company needed a chance to demonstrate their moral superiority to Yahoo and MSN.

A large part of Google’s success, I believe, comes from the simple phrase "Do no evil." Regardless of the realities of a large corporation, the motivations driving the company are perceived as more egalitarian than their competitors. A court victory on privacy issues gives them great PR.

Nonetheless, the realities of business continue to press on Google. Recently, I Hate Google posted on the terms and conditions for Google Pages. He noticed specific elements in the terms and conditions such as:

Users outside of the United States agree to comply with their own local rules regarding online conduct and acceptable content, including laws regulating the export of data to and from the United States or your country of residence.

Clearly, Google is taking precautions to smooth the way should the censorship beast raise its ugly head – but not in favor of those who may be censored. No, they’re protecting their own backs. Good business – but not something they’ll necessarily publicize heavily.

It’s not easy to define Google’s corporate philosophy. "Do no evil" is simplistic and unsustainable in an international business arena. On many levels, evil can be easily avoided. I doubt Google will be likely to employ child labor or hire assassins, for example. But as an international corporation, the company must acknowledge a reasonable set of laws. Their dispute with the Department of Justice demonstrates that they are willing to fight for their principles – but they should not be expected to go too far. Being willing to take your principles to court is very reasonable, but had the federal judge ruled against Google, it is unreasonable to expect the company to continue to resist.

A company can’t remain viable if they will not acknowledge the laws of doing business. The defense of Google’s principles can and should be taken to the courtroom at every opportunity, but it can’t be taken further.

What I’m trying to say is that Google’s principles are a great thing – but the company won’t sacrifice their success on principle. As long as Google takes advantage of the appropriate means to defend itself, they are succeeding in the fight
against evil.

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